Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 365
Source: Directly from author
Publisher: Seventh Street Books (Prometheus Books)
First Published: November 3, 2015
First Line: "Los Angeles - 1907 - "Anna blanc wore a six-inch hairpiece made from the tresses of a yak."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals. Determined to break free of the era's rigid social roles, she buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are covering up. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself. 

If the police find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding.

Anna must choose--either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.

My Review: Biscuits!  This was a good read!  From the first line I knew I was going to click with this author's writing style and humour.  One cannot mention the 'tresses of a yak' and go unnoticed in my world.

The next thing that surprised me (after the awesome first line) was the setting.  Early 1900's Los Angeles??  Yay!  I do love me an English mystery but this change of scenery was a breath of fresh air.  Kincheloe brings this era to life and it was interesting to see just how far we women have come in just over one hundred years.

The icing on the cake for me though was Anna herself.  Kincheloe has created a wonderful character that is a good mix -- Anna is a smart, independent young woman yet naive enough in her experience and decision making to make her a believable main character.  She's young, vibrant, quite spirited and funny.  She wants so much more out of life than sitting around waiting for a marriage proposal and is tired of being restricted on what she does, whom she spends time with by society and the men around her.  She takes matters into her own hands and that's when the fun begins.

The mystery itself was solid and had me changing my mind about the identity of the culprit. There were a couple of scenes that had me on the edge of my seat and many readers will enjoy the romantic storyline.  Initially I felt that the romance happened a little too fast but I quickly got on board and love the banter and heat between them.  

If I had one wish it would be that some of the secondary characters - perhaps Anna's array of chaperones, Madam Lulu etc - were used a little more.  They were varied and quite interesting and I hope to see many of them in future books (fingers crossed that the author is planning for this to be a series).

This was a wonderful debut which was filled with mystery, sass and a whole lot of humour.  Biscuits!  I loved it very much.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Jennifer Kincheloe for providing me with a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Edge of Lost

Author: Kristina McMorris
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington Books
First Published: November 24, 2015
First Line: "Alcatraz Island October 1937 - Fog encircled the island, a strangling grip, as search efforts mounted."

Book Description from GoodReadsOn a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter—one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island—has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorris delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay. As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell—and believe—in order to survive.

My Review:  The Edge of Lost is the kind of book that plunges you into its world and was so engaging that I read it in two sittings. It has two storylines, one being much more dominant, that finally converge towards the end of the book. The book starts in 1937 with a frantic search for a little girl who has gone missing on Alcatraz island. Then the book shifts back a couple of decades to Ireland and the main story which focuses on the tumultuous life of a young Irish boy, Shan Keagan who makes his way to America with the hopes to lives his dreams as an entertainer.  

Through Shan's eyes the reader gets a clear view of the immigrant experience as he moves to New York City.  He's an easy character to like and you can't help but root for him and the cast of secondary characters and the descriptions of New York City are vividly depicted.  While the reader gets engrossed in Shan's life the question of what happened to the missing child on Alcatraz still lingers.

I'd classify this book as a lighter historical fiction read.  Sure, it deals with some heavy situations (immigration, prohibition, prison, loss ...) and had some great writing but it still kept that lighter tone.  The only thing that lowered my rating of this book is that while I adored Shan's story, the storyline that focuses on the missing girl (the last third of the book) fell a little flat to me.  I guess I was expecting something grittier since it was set on Alcatraz island and more substantial since the missing girl is the focus of the book description. Also, towards the end of the book some of the twists felt far fetched and things wrapped up a little too nicely.  But in the end this was still a very enjoyable read and I liked how the two storylines were brought together towards the end of the book.

This is a coming of age story about about family - in all its forms, the immigrant experience and taking advantage of second and third chances.  Book clubs should check out the Q and A with the author at the back of the book for some great book club discussions.

My Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

I enjoy a good smoothie.  They're so versatile with some people enjoying green smoothies filled with spinach, kale, pine needles etc (I jest) and others, like myself, preferring something a little sweet - like my Banana Orange Smoothie.  Simply combining a frozen banana, orange juice, Greek yogurt and milk makes a delicious snack after a workout.  

But since my American followers will be celebrating Thanksgiving this coming weekend I thought I'd do one more Autumn post. Something pumpkin-y.  I decided to try out something new - a pumpkin pie smoothie - and because I think there's a law that a certain number of blog posts in the Fall have to do with pumpkin.  

This may not be considered a smoothie you want to eat if you're watching your waistline but it's not all that bad for ya either.  If you enjoy a lovely slice of pumpkin pie you'll want to give this a try.  You can make it as sweet, spicy or naughty (whipped cream bliss!!) as you want.  And it will help you keep up with your pumpkin treat consumption before we get too much snow and the flavour choices will lean strongly towards chocolate and peppermint.  Enjoy!

1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) - see Tip below
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash of cloves
2 tbsp honey (or more, to taste)
1 cup ice cubes
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 tbsp plain or vanilla Greek yogurt (or full fat sour cream - use what you have)
2 tsp vanilla

Garnish - whipped cream, nutmeg and cinnamon

Place all ingredients into an individual cup for your blender (if you have something like a Ninja blender) or in the large hopper.  Blend well.  Pour into a mason jar or other cup and top with whipping cream and/or fresh cinnamon and nutmeg.  Serve immediately.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Tip: Freeze extra canned pumpkin in ice cube trays for future use.  Once frozen place the cubes into a freezer bag.  This makes it easier for recipes that use small amounts of pumpkin.

Other pumpkin recipes from my blog:
Pumpkin 'n Spice Cream Cheese Muffins
Pumpkin Torte
Pumpkin Pie Dip

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Fire Catcher

Author: C.S Quinn
Genre: Historical Mystery
Type: Kindle e-book
Series: #2 in the Thief Taker series
1st book in series: The Thief Taker
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: November 10, 2015
First Line: "London 1649. Seventeen years before the Great Fire. - Sally's heart was pounding as she opened the chest."

Book Description from GoodReadsHidden in London is a legendary power. A fabled chest guards secrets more precious than gold.

But in 1666 secrets are deadly, and London is burning…

Charlie Tuesday is the city’s best thief taker. But one case still eludes him, a mysterious key entrusted by the mother he barely knew. The key opens a chest of priceless papers—papers said to hold the dark alchemy of a lost Brotherhood.

As flames ravage the city, the thief taker must track the chest into London’s blackest heart, where smugglers trade and sorcerers conjure. What Charlie begins to unravel is more ancient and powerful than he ever dreamed.

But time is running out and fire is the greatest purge of all.

My Review:  This was a well-researched historical mystery set within an interesting era - the great London fire in the 17th century.  It also focuses on London's underbelly of alchemy, treacherous and lecherous government officials and Charlie Tuesday, a Thief Taker, who is trying to find out the mysteries surrounding his family.  

While there is a lot of political intrigue (not my cuppa tea) it was the storyline surrounding Charlie trying to figure out his own past that kept me reading this book.  He's a fun and charming character who has a lot of energy and, as a Thief Taker, scurries all over London capturing thieves and returning lost merchandise.  Lily, a young gypsy spy with a penchant for trouble herself, holds her own with Charlie and is a great sidekick of sorts as the two of them tackle some rather big and scary adversaries in their quest to find out the truth. 

Action lovers will enjoy many high action scenes and while there is a fantasy aspect it is in the background but I feel that it fit well with the overall plot and era.  It was the continued antics of court life and some of their scheming that I didn't enjoy.  It went on for too long and negatively influenced the pace and my interest in the book.  The book also felt overly long and could have been cut down a bit.

This is actually the second book in a series but even though I had never read the first book, The Thief Taker, I found this to be an easy book to get into and I never felt like I was missing anything.  People who like a healthy dose of history, intrigue and some solid main characters should enjoy this book.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Thomas and Mercer and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Finding Winnie

Author: Lindsay Mattick
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Children, Canadian
Type: Hardcover Picturebook
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 56
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
First Published: October 20, 2015
First Line: "Could you tell me a story?" asked Cole.

Book Description from GoodReadsBefore Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie.

In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.

Harry Colebourn's real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey--from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England...

And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin.

Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

My Review: The world over knows about Winnie the Pooh but do they know the real story behind this popular bear?  In this beautifully illustrated picture book for children author Lindsay Mattick takes readers through the story of how this bear was found in White River, Ontario by Canadian soldier and veterinarian, Harry Colebourn.  She, yes Winnie was female, became a mascot of sorts for Colebourn's troop and won their hearts as they prepared to head off to fight in WWI.

The story then goes on to show how author A.A Milne and his son, Christopher Robin were first introduced to Winnie in a London zoo.  It's through Milne's series of books that Winnie became a household name. 

This is sweet story featuring beautiful illustrations but it's the the addition of the picture album at the back of the book that really makes this book stand out.  The author also happens to be the great granddaughter of Colebourn and her inclusion of pictures of the real Winnie with Harry and his troop as well as pages from Harry's diary during the war give it a personal feel.

This is a uniquely Canadian story involving a bear who won the heart of a soldier, his WWI troop and the entire world.  It is a great way to introduce children to the real history behind this truly infamous and beloved bear.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Illegal

Author: Lawrence Hill
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
First Published: September 8, 2015
First Line: "Freedom State 2018 - The words came from the runner on Keita's left."

Book Description from GoodReadsKeita Ali is on the run.

Desperate to flee Zantoroland, a mountainous island that produces the fastest marathoners in the world, Keita Ali signs on with notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm, who provides him with a chance to run the Boston marathon in return for a huge cut of the winning purse.

But when Keita fails to place among the top finishers, rather than being sent back to his own country, he goes into hiding in Freedom State—a wealthy nation that has elected a government bent on deporting the refugees living within its borders in the community of AfricTown. Keita can only be safe if he keeps moving and eludes Hamm and the officials who would deport him to his own country, where he will face almost certain death.

This is the new underground. A place where tens of thousands of people deemed to be “illegal” live below the radar of the police and government officials.

As Keita surfaces from time to time to earn cash prizes by running local road races, he has to assess whether the people he meets are friends or enemies: John Falconer, a gifted student intent on making a documentary about AfricTown; Ivernia Beech, an elderly woman who is at risk of being forced into an assisted living facility; Rocco Stanton, a recreational marathoner who is the Immigration Minister; Lula DiStefano, self-declared Queen of AfricTown and Madame of the community’s infamous brothel; and Viola Hill, one of the only black reporters in the country, who is investigating the possibility of corruption linking the highest officials in Freedom State and Zantoroland.

Keita’s very existence in Freedom State is illegal. As he trains in secret, eluding capture, the stakes keep getting higher. Soon, he is running not only for his life, but his sister’s life, too.  Fast-moving and compelling, 

The Illegal addresses the fate of an undocumented refugee who struggles to survive in a nation that does not want him.

My Review:  Lawrence Hill is one of my favourite authors.  I adored his Book of Negroes (which was my very first book review post) as well as Any Known Blood.  But if it weren't for Mr Hill's name on the cover I don't think that The Illegal is the kind of book I would typically pick up.  And yet I'm so glad that I did. 

The Illegal is a tale set in the very near future in two fictional countries, Freedom State and Zantoroland, and their issues (some quite violent) surrounding refugees as well as an underlying storyline involving long distance running.  By using two fictional countries Hill allows himself some leeway with his storytelling while bringing this serious and timely issue to the forefront of people's minds. 

The book focuses on Keita, a boy who had the misfortune to be born into the lower class of people in Zantoroland, and his struggle to freedom for himself and those like him. Hill weaves his plot using multiple points of view with a cast of strong and truly memorable characters.  From feisty octogenarian Ivernia Beech, tenacious teen John Falconer, tough as nails paraplegic reporter Viola Hill as well as those in positions of power, these characters are all well drawn out and showcase the different points of view involving the refugee issue.

Hill also adds some humourous moments and dialogue between his characters and, as a fellow Canadian, I loved the repeated references to Canada - especially the reference to Tim Horton's.  You've gotta love and respect a proud Canuck!

Hill gives his readers a lot to think about regarding the issue of refugees and you really feel for Keita and all that he, and his fellow 'illegals' have gone through.  Readers will easily get behind Keita as he runs towards freedom for himself and those like him who only had the misfortune to be born in a country who didn't value their worth.  Like Keita this book is fast-paced and Keita's struggle to freedom was so compelling.

While I really enjoyed this book I can't say that I loved it as much as some of Hill's previous works but The Illegal still holds it's own.  It has a different feel to it than Hill's other books but it still has Hill's signature compelling, compassionate writing that brings serious issues to the forefront of people's consciousness.  It is a very timely and important story especially with the issues that were raised here in Canada in our recent election.  Hopefully, at the very least, this book will make people think about the horrors that many of these refugees face in their home countries as they try to make better lives for themselves and their families.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

After You

Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in the Me Before You series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group Viking (Pamela Dorman Books)
First Published: September 29, 2015
First Line: "The big man at the end of the bar is sweating."

Book Description from GoodReadsHow do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future...

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes—a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and rejoice at being back in the world she creates. Here she does what few novelists can do—revisits beloved characters and takes them to places neither they nor we ever expected.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group Viking for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Almost three years ago I read the mega hit Me Before You and I was smitten with the relationship between Lou and Will.  The book was touching, funny and heartbreakingly emotional.  I'm talking about the kind of book that makes you have an 'ugly cry' while reading it.  It was amazing.

When I heard that Moyes had written a sequel I had two reactions - utter glee and trepidation.  I would get to reconnect with characters I loved but could this sequel live up to my high expectations?  Did I need to know what happened to Lou?  Could Moyes write another highly emotional book?

I did enjoy this book.  Quite a lot, actually.  And while it isn't the emotional rollercoaster/sob fest that MBY was, it had a quieter, simmering emotion to it.  It wasn't as sad as MBY (I don't think there could be a sadder book, honestly) but the emotion in this book stems from seeing Lou (and another character) falter and struggle to fit in.  To belong, each in their own ways.  The emotion I felt the most was hope followed closely by frustration and sometimes anger.  It was hard to see Lou struggle and be taken advantage of or to witness the antithesis of a good parent (man, I hated that mother!).  You feel for Lou and her loss and you see how her family, particularly her sister Treena, struggle to help her move on with her life.

“Moving on doesn't mean you loved [him] any less, you know.”

My favourite part of the book is the introduction of a new character.  I loved that Moyes kept the main part of the plot hidden from readers in the book summary because when the surprising addition of this character was introduced I didn't see it coming.  And I loved that this new twist took the book in a direction that I wasn't expecting.

Lou was once again a solid main character.  You're concerned for her.  You root for her.  She's still a bit of a goofball but she was also believably bereft with her pain, loss and sadness.  Even so, at times it was hard to read about how she struggled and some of the decisions she made that cast her as the proverbial doormat. Should Lou stay in her comfort zone and continue on in the safe, albeit boring, life she's made in the past two years and run the risk of letting new opportunities pass her by?  Lou is once again surrounded by her quirky family as well as a good cast of secondary characters, specifically her grief support group which showcased many different kinds and stages of grief. With the support of her family and new friends Lou slowly, and sometimes painfully, finds out who she is without Will.  

Moyes writing, once again, has a very easy feel to it.  It slowly draws you in and hangs onto you even through the occasionally hard to read passages.  I like that she doesn't spend a lot of this book focusing on MBY but gives After You it's own two feet to stand on.

After You is a book about struggling with grief after losing someone you've loved so deeply. It shows how grief affects so many facets of your day to day life that it can sometimes be paralyzing.  How learning to take chances on new happiness means putting oneself in risk to be hurt again.  It's a book about family in all its different forms.  It's about second chances and learning to let go of the pain enough to get back on your feet and live the life your loved one would want for you.

Moyes took a big risk following up Me Before You.  I've heard that she hadn't planned to write a sequel but her fans really pushed for it.  I think After You was a good way to find out what happened to Lou.  Her pain felt real and while this wasn't as emotional as MBY it was a very satisfying ending.

My Rating: 4 stars

Favourite Quote“I’ve thought about it a lot. You learn to live with it, with them. Because they do stay with you, even if they’re not living, breathing people anymore. It’s not the same crushing grief you felt at first, the kind that swamps you and makes you want to cry in the wrong places and get irrationally angry with all the idiots who are still alive when the person you love is dead. It’s just something you learn to accommodate. Like adapting around a hole. I don’t know. It’s like you become . . . a doughnut instead of a bun.” 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Red Pepper Jelly Glazed Salmon

This past weekend, after toiling to winterize our gardens, Brad and I wanted to make a nice supper together. We love to cook together and unfortunately it doesn't happen often enough.  Fresh salmon fillets are one of our favourite foods to eat so we bought a rather large salmon fillet to share.  Our kids, bless their hearts, opted to 'dine' on frozen pizza instead of partaking of the fish (sigh). 

I had a hankering for something 'sweet with heat' and my first thought went to the Red Pepper Jelly that I made this past summer as the basis for the glaze.  Ohhhh, man.  Was this glaze good.  Sweet with heat, y'all!  It doesn't get better than that!

I'm a self proclaimed hot food wimp, as many of you know.  My homemade red pepper jelly isn't as spicy as some but this glaze had just the right amount of heat (your mouth is hummin' a bit at the end of the meal) but not so much that you're sweating and guzzling down some milk to give your mouth some relief. And the touch of sweetness rounded things out.  

Between the two of us Brad and I inhaled the entire salmon fillet, mounds of grilled veggies and some rice.  We were so enamoured with our meal that we quite literally fist bumped each other for a meal well done!  Paired with a good bottle of wine this was a fabulous way to end a tiring day.

1.5 lbs of salmon fillets, skin left on
2/3 cup red pepper jelly
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh ginger, very finely diced (or grated)
2 tsp sesame oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 green onions, sliced

About an hour before the meal

Rinse fish and pat dry with a paper towel.

In a small bowl, combine red pepper jelly, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Note: If your red pepper jelly is on the thicker side, you may want to heat it in a small saucepan to loosen it up and then add the other ingredients.  My jelly was fine to mix up without heat.

Pour half of the marinade into a shallow dish large enough to fit the fish.  Place fish, skin side up, into the marinade.  Place dish into the fridge for at least an hour.

Heat your BBQ to medium-high heat.  Grease a piece of aluminum foil and place it, greased side up, in the centre of your grill.  Place fish on top of the foil, skin side down, and close the lid of your BBQ.  Discard the marinade you just used for the fish.  Cook salmon for about 15 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork.

Just before serving drizzle some of the remaining marinade (make sure that it's not the marinade that you already used with the fish!) over the cooked salmon and sprinkle with green onion.  Serve immediately with rice and grilled veggies.  Serve the extra sauce alongside your meal so you can drizzle it on the veggies, rice, every bite of salmon.  You will get no judgment about excessive glaze usage from me.

Yield: 2-4 people

Inspired by:

Monday, 9 November 2015


Author: Joan C Curtis
Genre: Mystery
Type: e-book for Kindle
Series: #1 in the Jenna Scali mystery series
Source: Directly from author
Pages: 331
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
First Published: September 1, 2015
First Line: "All I wanted in life was a good man and a million bucks."

Book Description from GoodReadsOn this anything but typical Monday morning, Jenna Scali, who works part-time for a shrink, opens an email that depicts the brutal death of a young girl. On that same day the police uncover a dead coed two blocks from Jenna’s house. The e-murderer’s description creepily echoes the death described in the newspapers. 
When Jenna receives other emails, she takes what she knows to the police and thus begins her journey in the path of the e-murderer. Her curious nature impels her from e-messages to dead coeds to a ring of prostitutes. With the help of her quirky friends, Jenna learns that she’s more than a conduit for the killer. She’s his target. 
THE E-MURDERER is a race to find a psychotic killer before he kills again.
This new mystery series with a young female sleuth promises to keep you glued to your seat until the last page. 

My Review:  This is the first book in a new mystery series.  It has a good plot, some memorable characters and solid writing.  The mystery is nicely paced and the use of taunting emails from the killer kept the creep factor pretty high.  I can't tell you how happy I was that this book didn't spend a lot of time focusing on a romantic angle (it actually focuses on dysfunctional romantic relationships).  Instead, the book spends time introducing characters, their relationships and giving readers a good, solid mystery to sink their teeth into.

Jenna Scali has just enough of an inquisitive nature and down to earth personality to make her a good, likable and relatable main character.  She's head strong, smart, flawed and a wee bit sassy.  The reasons why Jenna becomes embroiled in the mystery and sets herself up to be an amateur sleuth felt believable and I liked how she stumbled through the process.  While she makes some rather dangerous decisions at times they don't feel ridiculous and having her best friends yell at her about these decisions for the same reasons that you were thinking helps too.

There are also a slew of interesting secondary characters - there are some you like, particularly Quentin - Jenna's friend, a professor and belly dancing instructor, Starr the quintessential southern woman and then there are some characters that are rather obnoxious whom you love to hate and are eager to witness their downfall. They all seem pretty well rounded and play their roles within the story well.

Curtis also gives her readers numerous red herrings each with very plausible reasons why certain people could be the murderer.  Even people whom at first I thought could no way be the culprit made it onto my list of suspects at one point or another.  I was able to guess the murderer but I admit that I kept questioning if s/he was the culprit or not because other suspects seemed to fit well too.  I do wish there was a bit more of a big twist at the end of the book though.  Something to ramp up the energy towards the end of the book and throw readers' predictions into even more of a tailspin.

This was an enjoyable first book in a new mystery series.  With interesting characters and some good writing I eagerly look forward to reading more from this author.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Joan C Curtis for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Invasion of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 515 
Series: #2 in the Queen of the Tearling series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper
First Published: June 9, 2015

Book Description from GoodReadsWith each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

My Review: This is the second book in the Tearling series and it has a surprisingly different feel than the first book.  From characters to genre to setting there are a lot of new things introduced to the reader.

While Queen of the Tearling focused on Kelsea, Invasion of the Tearling spends a lot of page time on a new character, Lily Mayhew who lives in the Pre-Crossing era. At first it was a little hard to wrap my head around how she fit in with the storyline because Johansen doesn't give her reader any information on Lily.  Her story just appears leaving the reader to try to figure things out.  Lily's story was somewhat interesting but bleak and I kept waiting for the author to make it clear as to why this character was suddenly taking up the reigns.  The plot then bounces back and forth between Lily and Kelsea (oftentimes with these odd fugue states between the two that aren't clearly explained) but their stories stay quite separate.

Another thing that struck me about this book was that the author combined two different genres.  Kelsea's story continues to have a medieval fantasy feel but Lily's story line was Dystopian.  I can't say that I've read another book like it and it was quite intriguing the way Johansen incorporated them. There are also some good action scenes that kept me on my toes and ramped up the energy of the book.  I loved Father Tyler's story line which left me on the edge of my seat but be warned that there are some very graphic scenes involving abuse, rape and assault that may make some readers squeamish. 

Information is still slow in coming to the reader but things are made a little clearer as to how this Tearling world originated.  Johansen continues to leave a lot of unanswered questions which left me a little frustrated but I also understand that it was done to ensure that readers will pick up the last book in the trilogy to see how all of the pieces fit together.  

Some new characters are introduced into Kelsea's world which bring a freshness but old favourites (I'm looking at you, Fetch) also make some brief appearances.  I still have the feeling that I don't really know many of the characters well enough - who is the Fetch, who is that dark force, what are Mace's secrets, who is the Dark Queen ... So many questions still to be answered!

Lily's story definitely takes over a lot of this book and Kelsea, who was the focus of the first book fades a little into the background this time around.  Kelsea also goes through quite a transformation in personality and changes physically but these changes felt forced and rather quick.  She went from a naive, yet strong, plain looking girl (we're reminded ad nauseum about this fact in the first book) to a stronger, bolder, darker and yes surprisingly a more attractive leader in a rather short period of time.  She is, once again, a wonderfully flawed character who makes mistakes and feels believable.  Her romantic liaisons were thankfully in the background because they fell fell flat and felt unnecessary to the plot. I have a feeling that Kelsea will come back with a vengeance in the last book.

In the end, I wouldn't say that I was as enamoured with this book as I was with the first book but it was still a good read and a bridge to the final book in the series, The Fate of the Tearling which will be released in 2016.  I hope that all of the secrets surrounding these women and their worlds will be revealed to the reader because I want to end this series with all of the answers and I just hope that Johansen will deliver.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
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